Perspectives of Teachers and Parents on ESL in Early Childhood Education

Abstract

Education as a Second Language (ESL) is a program designed to help students with limited proficiency in English. The program has an international implication as most if not all its students are derived internationally. This gives it its importance in enhancing cross-border transition. However, the program still has extrinsic and intrinsic challenges emanating from the perspectives of its stakeholders namely the teachers, parents, and pupils, who recognize its importance as a needful in border maintenance in defining the ‘us’ compared to ‘them’ hence breaking the impression of feeling left out of the system. By the end of the day whether a parent, a teacher, a student or a researcher in the ESL we all may agree that the program is a necessity in the present era of globalization in which an individual cannot be quite at home as a unilingual. Chances are that such an individual will be cut off communication on the international level where multicultural settings are inevitable. More so the global trend of system standardization will catch up with a unilingual given that the media of communication is being standardized including technological advances that require one to know more than one language. Cooperation enhances ownership, participation and creates great opportunities but building trust must take preeminence. This will go a long way in creating a competent curriculum defining in clear terms the aims of the system, outlining the evaluation mechanisms, and stating the role of each party in developing the program more so for the international students whose parents are also direct beneficiaries of the ESL program.

Introduction

Education as a Second Language (ESL) is a program designed to help students with limited proficiency in English. This was necessitated by the different entry behavior in schools where students were derived from diverse backgrounds socially, economically, ethnically and culturally. As such it was viewed as a violation of the civil rights of these students if ignored. ESL is therefore supposed to provide a smooth transition by the minority language students in succeeding in other mainstream classes to provide equal opportunity to the students.

The program has an international implication as most if not all its students are derived internationally. This gives it its importance in enhancing cross-border transition. However, the program still has extrinsic and intrinsic challenges emanating from the perspectives of its stakeholders namely the teachers, parents, and pupils as mentioned by Suarez-Orozco (2001) who recognizes its importance as a needful in border maintenance in defining the ‘us’ compared to ‘them’ hence breaking the impression of feeling left out of the system. The perspectives are fueled by various aspects ranging from classroom requirements, the role of drilling, effects of correcting errors, benefits of instructing grammar, the importance of effective communication up to language classroom interaction.

This paper, therefore, seeks to highlight the perspective of the teachers and parents involved in ESL in developing the language skills of the children in the ESL program for a smooth transition in the current practices, particularly in early childhood education. A keen reference shall be made to students from countries in which their parents are also ESL learners.

Literature Review

Perspective of teachers

The cultural perspective

The ESL in itself creates bilingualism to the student due to curriculum requirements by the other classes. This demand according to Skutnab-Kangas (1984) is compared to taking up new culture by the individual. This is taken negatively by the student creates a lack of reception by the student which impairs the facilitation of learning by the teacher. This therefore may make the facilitation of the program not easy on the part of the teacher.

In his article multi-cultural education, James Banks raises the fact that very little work has been done to reduce the gap between the theory learned in class and the practical part in the field by the teacher. This has made the ability of the teacher to handle cross-cultural class sessions not easy for lack of the link between the theory and the practical.

On the other hand, the very name English as a Second Language according to Gregory (1996) makes the pupils look at English as a second option to what their language of which knowledge has no option due to the pressure imposed on them. She says that it tends to deflect the teacher’s attention on the need of the student to learn the language. A suggestion is that the name of the program should not jeopardize its goal by shifting the teacher’s viewpoint.

The other issue affecting teachers’ perspective on ESL is just how far the official curriculum requirements should go in terms of testing and student response to the language learned. This is due to the parental pressure of the need for speeded language acquisition of the host country by their children. This makes the development of competence of the student in maintaining realistic lingua-cultural advantages through developing the second language in their mother tongue. This is enhanced by the teachers’ help in coordinating the formal as well as the informal learning as Gregory (1996) points out.

Curriculum perspective

The curriculum perspective of the ESL teachers is a bit that plays an important part in developing the ESL program due to the need to develop a curriculum that would parallel the mainstream classes together with the mainstream teachers which according to Zamel & Spack (2002), can lead to an interdisciplinary teaming in ESL with the content teachers in the mainstream classes. Developing such an integrated syllabus and curriculum requires input from all the stakeholders of the ESL. It might be a challenge but the student response to a similar proposal as noted by Zamel and Spack (2002) is a very good tool that will go beyond the curriculum level to the social level of ESL.

The curriculum developed aims at creating a link between the various aspects of the learning plan (Hollins, 1996). Bringing cohesiveness between the ESL program and the mainstream program is a challenge but forms an important part of the development of the ESL which is taken in tandem with the mainstream program. The contribution by the learner will help make the program leaner centered as compared to curricula developed without the learner involvement. However, in this development, the teacher needs to create a balance to ensure that all stakeholders including the financiers and the teachers should not be weighed down by the curriculum. In this case, the perspective of the teacher is to develop a system that is interactive to the teacher and learner while maintaining cost-effectiveness.

The social perspective

Teachers in the ESL have found the program a platform of multiculturalism in education on which interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships are brought together in common play by the teachers, parents, and the student but the student is at the pivot point. However, to them, the challenge is to practice multiculturalism in the schools due to the diversity of the student base they deal with in the long run (Hofstede, 2001). They find it a challenge worth taking as it allows them to share into the multi-culture they are exposed to. This is according to a case study by Yusof, (2005) in Keddah. Gaea Leinhardt (1992) in his work points at the need for teachers to acknowledge the wealth of knowledge, regardless of their background, that all students bring to the learning process. An individual’s prior knowledge in a given area of a discipline determines how he/ she can bring out its meaning.

The students have expressed the need to have close interpersonal relationships with their teachers to enhance cultural transfer. The interactive form means that the teacher should be the role model to the student through initiating constructive discourses and guiding the student into reaching healthy inferences as highlighted by Lehr and Harris (1988) who further advocated for individual involvement rather than the passive response form. This will improve the teacher-student relationship hence building a positive attitude by both parties towards the ESL program.

Emotional perspective

Building a positive mental attitude in students is a prime objective of any good teacher. The challenge the ESL teachers have in this area partly comes from the cultural and linguistic background of the students. Most students come from backgrounds that have never had English as any of its languages. As the teacher attempts to introduce a new language to the student the culture shock as well as the potential fear of failure by the student creates a negative attitude or sometimes phobia for the language.

The learner in the ESL is likely to face similar as that of the disabled. This could be seen when their ‘heaviness’ to grasp a word or proficiency is interpreted to be inability. The prejudice they may face can create a negative attitude in them and resentment. It is now that the teacher may consider Brain-compatible instruction which builds on the thought that a human brain operates like a very powerful parallel processor, capable of doing many tasks simultaneously as suggested by (Caine & Caine, 1991). The teacher’s perspective, in this case, is that of the pre-referral approach as prescribed by Litt in which the teacher screens and comes up with intervention measures involving the specific problems the learner is having and determine whether they can be dealt with. This aims at eliminating the need to refer the leaner in the subject. Teachers are finding it better to deal with the learner at a more personal level to establish the individual weakness of the student just as culture in the US reveals prevailing assumptions on the value of the individualistic approach, as shown in Marzano (2003).

Teaching and learning Materials and resource perspective

As it is language teaching is shifting from the translation and drilling approach to an interactive communicative process that lays emphasis on effective teaching materials. As Brown and Kondo-Brown (2006) put it there is little done in this area of study yet more students show interest in ESL. There is a need therefore to develop authentic materials for the teacher and learner which shall emphasize practice as compared to the drilling approach previously used. All this, they say, is due to an increased awareness of the reduced forms of language in which a higher preference is given to the practice approach than the studying of the reduced forms.

The materials for teaching and learning should enhance the interactive form of the ESL instead of the drilled form. Content delivery will therefore be easier and faster for the teacher and the learner if the materials are pro-practice than if they remain pro-study. This keeps in mind the fact that the learner might be meeting the language for the first time. Therefore, to avoid the phobia caused by lack of comprehension by the learner, a more practical-oriented text is necessary.

The parent’s perspective for the ESL development

Parents play a very pivotal role in the educational development of their children. They are the main financiers of the system; they offer parental guidance to the child and offer motivation to the learner within protected goals. This is all to help the learner achieve his/ her personal goal in life. For parents of children in ESL schools in which they also were learners a lot can be seen in them in terms of their perception of the program.

Most parents are concerned with how their children should learn. They look at the ESL as a failure program given the length of time taken, lack of examinations, mixed grading, low content level, and lack of grammar syllabus.

Many parents however indicate a positive attitude given that they see the positive the ESL puts in their children. Most are happy as the case of the Hmong parents as Clara Park says were excited at using English as a language of communication in their homes. They still however harbored some fears including the fact that the teachers did not understand the Hmong culture yet they were teaching them their Canadian and American culture through language. This fear of course can create withdrawal among the parents hence affecting the program. It is therefore demanded by the parents that the teachers be people who understand their native language and more so their culture to improve trust within the parents.

Parent participation in the school

This is one area in which parents feel left out from the ESL programs and schools. The difficulty of the parents to participate in ESL activities and schools is because of language barriers, conflicts in work schedules, and role separation between school duty and duty at home. The parents felt left out because the decision-making level does not involve them yet as Williams and Chavkin (1989) put it, a successful home/school routine program is needful for success in the curriculum

The linguistic challenge is cited as another reason for dissatisfaction among parents with ESL. Since the teachers of ESL do not understand the parents’ native language, the parents could not effectively communicate with the teachers because of a lack of understanding between them. This is the reason why they prefer that the ESL teachers be those who understand the language and culture of the natives.

Concerning the synchronizing of work and school schedules, the parents found it hard to fit into the school schedule due to their engagements at their working places. This made it hard for the parents to actively participate in guiding and counseling the child and in offering parental guidance from the school. In cases where the student is an overseas student, then the logistics of traveling technically hindered parental participation in school activities.

It is important to note that for many of these parents, ESL comes in only for convenience rather than as a necessity. This on the other side could be the reason behind their extreme criticism of the ESL programs and schools. An effort must be made to make the parents and community own the school rather than siding line spectators.

Similarities between the teachers’ and parents’ perspectives for ESL

A critical look at what the parents and teachers present as their perspective for the development of the ESL, we find several issues coming out in common. They both acknowledge the cultural significance of the ESL schools in which they both find them providing a platform for cross-cultural interaction for mutual understanding between communities and people of diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds. With a keen understanding of the unique cultural values which the students bring to school, we can be very effective in tapping their resources to help them succeed in school as elaborated by (Cabello & Burstein, 1995). This is to say that the ESL creates unity in diversity to enhance cross-border relationships.

The two entities also acknowledge the need to develop a consistent and working curriculum for the sustainability and authenticity of the course. This should form a basis of examination, grammar teaching syllabus, and grading system. They find it necessary owing to the fact that there is a need to synchronize the ESL with the mainstream classes for consistency. It is the authenticity of the system that has put it at a slowed popularity.

Both parties also agree on the need to revitalize the system to fit into the growing need to change from the drilling approach of teaching grammar to the practical aspect. Martin Haberman (1991) points out that, teachers together with the students are in fundamentally diverse activities: whereas the teachers teach the students to learn. But rather proposes that teachers engage with the students as learners in search of answers to real problems in life. This approach means an investment in the reaching and learning materials developed with a practical approach. This will mean a participatory learning process with the learner at heart through induction of reasoning and argument for faster understanding.

The two have together seen the need to involve one another in the planning process to avoid working alone. The tendency of program failure was attributed to a lack of consultation by the organs of the system. As the importance of the system is emphasized, the stakeholders see a continued need to consult at every level to ensure that the system is in harmony with the community it is intended to serve.

Differences in the perspectives between parents and teachers

The parents and teachers of the ESL have a minor show of contrast in their opinion about the program. Whereas the teachers find the program a success and achieve the objective for which it was set, the parents hold that the system is filing and giving them a raw deal. The parents hold that the system has failed in delivering its objective due to lack of a structured system with evaluation and testing measures which, according to them has the student at risk of losing the purpose for the program. On the other hand, the teachers insist that the program is a success since it has managed to induce a linguistic culture in the learner through instruction. To them, the fact that a student is able to fluently speak English as a second in itself is a great achievement.

What we see happening in the two camps is the ideological differences between the parents and the teachers. The parents have their own cultural beliefs of how they want their children taught which is not in harmony with how the teachers are handling it. The parents want a system that will ensure a speeded-up grasping by their children, of the second language through drills and studying of grammar. This is opposed to the teachers’ point of view where they are for an interactive and practice-oriented course that shall enhance grammar understanding through an interaction between the English language and the learners’ native languages. This they insist is the only way to create a smooth transition from the first language to English as a second language without creating a culture shock in the learner.

The other sharp contrast seen between the two groups is the difference in the relevance of culture in the ESL program. While the teachers want the learner to get the English culture for them to understand the mainstream classes, the parents feel that the teacher should first learn and be conversant with the native culture to instruct the learner into the second language culture. This belief puts a stake on which culture is more important in the ESL school system. To the teacher, English is fundamentally important for the learner to understand the mainstream classes but to the parent, the teacher’s understanding of the native culture is mandatory for easy understanding of the second language by their children. The parents harbor in them the untold fears that the teachers by prioritizing English over the native culture, leave them out of the system and make them quasi members whose contribution is not important.

Methodology

In this research, I intend to interview four parents and four teachers to find out their views on the subject. Their responses will be recorded and the data analyzed using statistical analysis software, such as SPSS or SAS.

The interviews will be aimed at finding out the other issue affecting teachers’ perspective on ESL is just how far the official curriculum requirements should go in terms of testing and student response to the language learned. This is due to the parental pressure of the need for speeded language acquisition of the host country by their children. This makes the development of competence of the student in maintaining realistic lingua-cultural advantages through developing the second language in their mother tongue.

The research will also aim at establishing the curriculum perspective of the ESL teachers in developing the ESL program due to the need to develop a curriculum that would parallel the mainstream classes together with the mainstream teachers which can lead to an interdisciplinary teaming in ESL with the content teachers in the mainstream classes.

Conclusion

By the end of the day whether a parent, a teacher, a student or a researcher in the ESL we all may agree that the program is a necessity in the present era of globalization in which an individual can not be quite at home as a unilingual. Chances are that such an individual will be cut off communication on the international level where multicultural settings are inevitable. More so the global trend of system standardization will catch up with a unilingual given that the media of communication is being standardized including technological advances that require one to know more than one language.

The similarities in the perception of the teachers and parents point to the high possibility of having a popularized ESL program. The willingness by the stakeholders to put into the system their contribution for its betterment is not to be doubted. This has given the spirit and will to do something to keep the otherwise good program growing in popularity to keep with the global trends in culture, tradition, communication and technology.

The need to have joint stakeholders’ forums should not be brushed away so as to restore trust and feeling of ownership of the institutions of ESL as noted in the parents’ perception of the ESL. As Freiberg (1996) says cooperation enhances ownership, participation and creates great opportunities but building trust must take preeminence. This will go a long way in creating a competent curriculum defining in clear terms the aims of the system, outlining the evaluation mechanisms, and stating the role of each party in developing the program more so for the international students whose parents are also direct beneficiaries of the ESL program.

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